Controversial Free Speech Zones Finally Being Banned From College Campuses

freedom of speechBy James Holbrooks

Amid long-running debate in Iowa about the Constitutionality of “free speech zones” on college campuses, the governor of Arizona recently signed new bills that will effectively turn campuses, themselves, into zones of free speech in that state.

Both Arizona bills were signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey on May 16. House Bill 2548 targets free speech infringement in public squares. HB 2615 eliminates free speech zones altogether — and orders those areas to be converted into memorials or monuments.

In a statement, Ducey wrote:

Part of the university experience is to be able to express diverse views, openly, without fear of retribution or intimidation — and to be exposed to other views and perspectives, even if they aren’t politically correct or popular.

The notion of designating areas where students can politically protest has long been sharply criticized as antithetical to the First Amendment.

As recently as March of this year, Dr. Charles Kesler — prominent conservative professor and senior fellow at the Claremont Institute — stated in an interview that students today are looking “for the college to protect them from argumentation, from offense — easily taken.”

From his interview with The Daily Signal:

The mantra of student protestors these days is ‘I’m offended.’ And ‘I’m offended’ is very different from saying ‘I disagree.’ When you say to someone ‘I disagree with you’ you invite a conversation … ‘I’m offended’ means stop talking.

In recent years, opponents to free speech zones are finding more and more reasons to celebrate.

In April of 2014, Virginia became the first state in the Union to ban the practice when HB 258 passed both Houses of the Assembly — unanimously — and was then signed into law by the governor.

A little over a year later, in July of 2015, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed the Campus Free Expression Act — which “designates the outdoor areas of campuses of public institutions of higher education to be traditional public forums” — making Missouri the second state to adopt such a measure.

Now, with the news out of Arizona, three states have chosen to eliminate free speech zones from college campuses.

On the other side of the spectrum, what’s been happening in Iowa is a good example of how complicated the issue can become.

As early as 2009, professors in the Hawkeye State had expressed concern over the impairment of free speech on campuses. In the wake of Iowa State announcing that special zones would be established for political protest, the Iowa State Daily put questions to professors at neighboring University of Iowa.

One associate professor of journalism, Stephen Berry, said that, as a journalist, he would “adamantly oppose any limitations on free speech except speech that would cause imminent danger to life or property or violate the Constitutionally protected rights of others.”

Addressing free speech zones, specifically, he added that he would “also be concerned about any restriction on where protesters are allowed to make their voices heard.”

The issue didn’t go away, and by 2015, the Iowa State student government was being asked to vote forward a bill that would create an additional free speech zone — a bill the students voted down in the name of free speech.

The seemingly conflicting nature of the student government’s actions led to headlines like “Iowa State student leaders vote against free speech, claim they ‘advocate’ free speech.”

Last month — while Arizona was giving free speech zones the boot — Rekha Basu of the Des Moines Register wrote an editorial outlining the frustration felt by many at a practice that seems so fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment.

She opens:

There may be no greater paradox than the concept of ‘free-speech zones’ on college campuses. Not because college students aren’t sophisticated enough to deal responsibly with their freedom of speech, but because campuses are by definition free-speech zones. Carving out special areas to exercise that right doesn’t just undermine the premise; it goes against the purpose of a higher education.

This article (Controversial Free Speech Zones Finally Being Banned From College Campuses) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to James Holbrooks and If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to Image credit: Flickr/Newtown grafitti

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5 Comments on "Controversial Free Speech Zones Finally Being Banned From College Campuses"

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  2. Being offended is an emotional response that proves that free speech has taken place much like its counterpart laughter at a comedians use of free speech when telling a joke. Being offended should mean one walks away or changes the channel without censorship. Being offended should not become a judgement of condemnation which denies the option of speaking. as a human response to educating the public to social injustice or educating the public in general The fact that laws are enacted to protect free speech is a sign that we do not live in a democracy. When moderators of comments on these pages censor the texting of free speech they are proving to US the intent of the creators of this website which is to control the expression of communication which is a necessary part of engaging and participating in a democratic form of governance. Every time one of my expressions is moderated and /or censored I realize I do not live in an open society of my peers and must press forward more diligently to get my message out to those who really do want to participate in a a truly individually representative form of government and not the tyranny of the perpetuated old world order. You cannot begin to have a democracy without free speech as this is the reason for the first amendment.

  3. Arlene Lane | June 2, 2016 at 8:05 am | Reply

    this is America, this is all they can do, the gutlessness of their government knows no bounds, as one man calls the in the comment column, which fits them absolutely, so let be AMERICANUS HORRIBILIS, AND BY NO OTHER NAME,

  4. Restricting the exercise of speech to “zones” is unconstitutional. Liberals hate the constitution so they will support so called “free speech zones”.

  5. Terry Adams-Stromsky | June 3, 2016 at 6:16 pm | Reply

    How can people debate, learn from each other, you can’t stifle speech or people will only have one sided views. People get offended everyday. American is a democracy, we have freedom of speech, freedom of expression. Our constitution was what made American the greatest place in the world. You will NEVER satifiy everyone, put everyone has a right to express themselves. Liberals are ruining this country as we can see when the twist the laws and rules of the constitution. The next generation of kids are going to have a rude awaking when they get to the work force, they don’t have safe spaces.

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